By Flossie Waite
Polka Theatre
10.35am, 7th November

Photo by Robert Workman

Photo by Robert Workman

Adaptations are à la mode, and picturebooks are particularly ripe for the picking. Modern favourites like Charlie and Lola and The Gruffalo sit alongside older classics like We’re Going On a Bear Hunt and The Tiger Who Came to Tea, all now hugely popular and wildly successful plays. Polka Theatre has recreated Anthony Browne’s Gorilla hoping to add to this list, and it certainly gives it a good go.

Hannah absolutely loves gorillas. Her biggest dream is to see a gorilla in real life at the zoo, but her dad is just too busy to take her. However, the night before her birthday, something amazing happens…

Entering the Adventure Theatre, the audience steps into the pages of Anthony Browne’s book, published 30 years ago. For anyone who knows and loves this story, the play’s aesthetic attention to detail is exciting, each scene offering fresh opportunity to spot moments or objects re-created on the stage. Laura McEwan’s set is at once familiar, but also surprising – everything becomes something else. This is used brilliantly in the trip to the zoo; the bars at the head of Hannah’s bed become the bars of a cage, and Hannah and Gorilla look out at all the little gorillas in the audience.

However, the production’s attention to detail is at times problematic. The amount of unpacking and unfolding involved in changing the set becomes distracting, and even a little clunky. The same can be said of the Hannah and Gorilla puppets. So much is expected of them, that the actors at times have to change who is controlling which puppet, and Gorilla is left un-manned at one point. This is no reflection on the performers of this two-hander, Ceri Ashcroft and Phil Yarrow, but rather on the fact that this is a high-reaching and resourceful production.

In current children’s theatre, book adaptations are ten a penny – frankly, they appeal to parents and sell well. However, this ambitious production is so much more than that. Gorilla is a much-loved picturebook, and this is clearly a play created with much love.

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